The UNITE union branch at The University of Sheffield has organised some 300 mainly female cleaners employed by the institution and launched a campaign demanding a wage of £10 an hour – with a key meeting taking place yesterday and thousands backing the cause through a petition.
This would be an increase of 50p an hour as the university pays cleaners the current ‘living wage’ of £9.50.
Chris Rawlinson, UNITE branch secretary, told the Telegraph: “It takes them demanding change for change to happen. They signed a pledge to take action over pay and lack of a voice.
"We met with MP Louise Haigh, we’ve had support from Paul Blomfield and Olivia Blake.
"Cleaners absolutely need to be recognised as key workers. A lot of them are clinically vulnerable and a lot of them worked throughout the pandemic. They were happy to come into work and they value their job.”
The union says the proposed wage increase would cost the university £201,819.50 a year. In contrast Vice-Chancellor Koen Lamberts earns £290,000.
The majority of cleaners at the university work 17.5 hours a week.
Chris added: “I want to see this pushed out across the city. There’s nothing special about cleaners at the university compared to cleaners at any other employer in the city.
"We are optimistic at the moment. There is a real belief they can win."
Chris wants the university management to agree to a wage increase to £10 an hour with an annual uplift every November when the new living wage is calculated.
He added: “The cleaners struggle to get clothes for their kids, there are people working into their 70s. This is about dignity.
"We have a good relationship with the university management but we are falling behind here.”
A UNITE petition has so far garnered over 13,900 signatures in support of the campaign.
Organisers met university management yesterday and a second meeting is scheduled for October 18.
Yesterday Prime Minister Boris Johnson was also set to announce a minimum wage increase at the Conservative Party conference.
A University of Sheffield spokesman said: “The University employs 357 cleaning staff and supervisors and we are proud to have been able to continue to provide them ongoing employment during the pandemic, either in vital roles helping to maintain our campus as a Covid-secure setting, or furloughed on full pay.
"We are incredibly grateful to them for the important contributions they have made to our response to the pandemic.
“Our cleaning staff are currently paid a minimum of £9.50 per hour, in line with the rate recommended by the Living Wage Foundation.
"The pay rates at the University are determined through a process of national pay bargaining with a number of trade unions, including Unite. “We have recently awarded our cleaning staff and others on similar pay grades a 3.6 per cent pay increase. We are in ongoing discussions with our local trade unions over this issue and are committed to working constructively with them."
The petition can be signed here